As far back as I can remember, and I’m talking like 3 or 4 years old, I’ve experienced this . . . thing. It’s a thing that I didn’t know if everyone experienced or nobody else experienced. Nobody I knew talked about it, so I never did.
This thing is a tickling sensation that starts in the back of my brain and then, if it’s powerful enough, travels all the way down my spine. It’s an extremely calming and pleasurable feeling. Have you ever had someone else gently touch your skin and it felt really soothing? It’s like that, except it’s my brain stem and spinal column that are getting that touch.
What brings this sensation about is hard to pin down. Sometimes it comes from a touch, like on the scalp. But more often it comes as a result of experiencing something external. Certain sounds or visual experiences can set off this tickling sensation. After I’ve experienced those events, just thinking about them afterwards can bring about the same effect.
The earliest memory I have of this feeling was from childhood doctor checkups. My doctor, Dr. Pink, had this soft, baritone voice. He’d check my heart and lungs with a stethoscope. He’d look at me and say, “Now, this will be cold.” It always was. The memory of his voice and the cold stethoscope moving about my skin between breaths would send shockwaves of this tingling sensation through my brain for years.
Since that point I’ve encountered hundreds of triggers. They always been small events that everyone experiences but probably only few take note of. If there’s one commonality between all these triggers, I would say they all involve something that a person does that, when analyzed, appears either to be just slightly out of the ordinary or unnecessary.
Vague enough? I suppose I can only explain with examples. First of all, the doctor visits. When you sit there being examined by a doctor, aren’t there some things they do or say that you don’t understand and may seem unnecessary? They probably aren’t, but to our ignorant, non-medical minds, they seem like they are. Like, why do they only move the stethoscope two inches between your breaths? Why all of a sudden was it moved four inches? Why did he just move it back to a spot you thought he already checked? Why is it so cold? I never knew. These moves just seemed slightly off. Brain tickle!
Still on doctors, here’s a video clip of an doctor’s practice examination (from the ASMR YouTube site). Why does the doctor always cover up one of her eyes whenever she asks the patient to cover up one of his? Could she really gain any important information by (very briefly) checking the strength of his tongue? So many triggers here.
But as I said, there have been hundreds of triggers.
- My cousin trying to light a stick on fire by swiping it again the ground like it was a match and the ground was a matchbox when we were 6.
- The audio tape we listened to in kindergarten of grownups talking about their profession. The barber would talk but would always stop mid-sentence to “snip snip” and then finish the sentence.
- Carlos Santana constantly adjusting the knobs on his guitar between solo runs. Sometimes he didn’t even have time to turn it, but he would put his hand down to at least touch the knob anyway.
- Someone talking to a group or even just another person at a normal level, but then dropping to a whisper for one sentence for some reason before returning to normal voice. Go to 3:45 of this video of the Simpsons to get an example.
- My co-worker at my maintenance job at the speedway showing me how to fix a rusty faucet. He’d take the grate off the faucet, run it under running water, and the *tap tap tap* on the side of the since, repeat. It was always three taps. This went on for over a minute, and always *tap tap tap*. Then he’d take his wrench and tap the side of the faucet with it to loosen up any rust inside. This always two taps and then a quick move. *Tap tap*, move, *tap tap*, move, *tap tap*. Why so exact with the tapping?
- A TV hypnotist who would put people to sleep just by waiving his hand in front of their faces and saying “sleeeeeeeep!” Then he would wake them up by counting backwards from 10, but it wasn’t a smooth count. “10-9-8-7,” then he would tell them they are slowly coming out of it and would remind them what was going to happen once they woke up. “6-5-4,” then he’d say “we’re coming up on 1,” as if it had been a long wait. “3-2-(pause)-1.”
- Bob Ross
Did I mention Bob Ross? Those who know me know I have a weird fascination with the guy (may he rest in peace), even though I do not paint. He is a brain tickling master! Everything about him, from his calm voice, to he quirky way he describes what he’s painting (“happy little clouds” anyone?), to the brush strokes he makes total sets the sensation on high. My personal favorite memonets are whenever he cleans the brush (same motion everytime, and does that really get the brush dry?), when he fluffs up the clouds, and whenever he needs to “blend everything together,” even when there’s only a blue sky on the canvas. I’m so hooked on this guy that my wife bought me a three-DVD set composed entirely of him painting seascapes!
For the longest time, I was unsure if I was alone in experiencing this sensation. I’ve explained it to some people before, but those that I had talked to could not relate to what I was trying to relay to them. Was I the only one who felt this feeling? For the first 31 years of my life, I figured I must be.
Then about a month ago, I did something I should have done years ago. I Googled it. I can’t remember exactly what I put in to search, probably “brain tickling” or something. Maybe 4 or 5 links down, I saw a Yahoo Answers page. The original poster asked if anyone else had ever experienced this tickling sensation in the back of the brain like he/she had. The poster described it as something that came about as the result of certain external stimuli, like tapping or scratching.
That was it! Somebody out there got it! In one of the answers, I found this link. It’s a page dedicated to this “Unnamed Feeling” as it’s described. The author described the feeling the best he could in print, and listed off common triggers. It’s on this page when I first learned of the name ASMR, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. This is the name that I began to associate with the sensation.
From this page I was also directed to an ASMR Facebook group, a Twitter feed, and a YouTube channel. There are 1000s of brain ticklers out there! And lucky for me, they post ASMR videos for my enjoyment. Some of their triggers don’t do anything for me, like nail scratching and gum-chewing. But others are amazing!
I’m to understand that this sensation lessens as we age. I believe that, unfortunately. This sensation might disappear completely when I’m older. Sad.
Anyway, I wrote this because I saw somebody else wrote a blog about his ASMR experience and I got inspired. Most people who read it will still have no idea what I’m talking about it, and may watch the videos and just get more confused. Sorry. Unfortunately, either you get it or you don’t.